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Aussie mum completes world’s toughest marathon test

The World Marathon Challenge is almost an extreme running event. Starting at Union Glacier in the Antarctica and finishing in Sydney, competitors are required to complete seven marathons in seven days in seven different continents.

iRun caught up with Sydney mum Heather Hawkins, who was one of four women to complete the challenge. Heather’s average marathon time was just under five hours – her fastest being her final one in Sydney. The 50-year-old was rewarded for her efforts by recently being named Coogee’s Woman of the Year.

A lot of people have only one word to describe someone who is doing 7 marathons in 7days in 7 continents. Are you ‘mad’ or just a ‘mad keen runner who likes challenges’?

I’m a mad keen runner who loves to get out there and run! I’m also a 50- year-old Aussie mum, ovarian cancer survivor, surf lifesaver and ambassador for the Can Too foundation. I’m always on the lookout for a new event, for a race that will push me that little bit further and take me to a new and different location.

How many other marathons had you done and what up until this one was your favourite?

I’m relatively new to long distance running, having only stood on that start line of my first marathon in September 2013. In some ways I still feel like the new kid on the block, learning from every race, adapting and tweaking my nutrition and training.

Prior to the World Marathon Challenge I’d run seven marathons and three ultra marathons (45kms, 50kms and 100kms on trails.) My favourite by far was the North Pole marathon in April 2015. It was incredible experience, running laps in deep snow on an ice floe near the Geographic North Pole. Temperatures plummeted to -41c. I was completely kitted out in thermals, ski goggles, gloves and a balaclava and surprised myself by winning the women’s division!

Were the other runners mainly ultra runners?

I believe the other runners were primarily marathon runners. Two had completed the Marathon des sables and two had run several Oxfam 100 races. In our group also was Patrick Fallon, a guy who had never run a marathon before! He was raising funds for paediatric cancer research and he did amazingly well!

Which marathon was the most daunting pre-race and which one turned out to be the hardest?

In the lead up to the World Marathon Challenge the marathon that I was most concerned about was Marrakech, Morocco, due to the short turnaround time between it and the two previous marathons in Miami and Madrid. But it’s so often the case isn’t it, that our fears are unfounded and things have a habit of working out. Marrakech ended up being one of my favourite runs. Despite having very little sleep the night before on the plane, I was in a great frame of mind running 42.195kms through the night around a block with date palms in a sleeping city, thinking of all the reasons why it was good to be alive.

I found Madrid the toughest of all, due to the hillier route. I guess being marathon No.4 the muscle fatigue was starting to creep in and I had to push myself all the way through this race! With just 500 metres to go I had a lapse in concentration, tripped over a rock and hit the deck. I grazed my hands and knees and it completely knocked the wind out of my sails. But I picked myself up, put on a brave face, ran to the finish line and the first aid officer put me back together again!

Were you able to take in many of the sights – or were you too focused on getting through the challenge?

We did see some sights from the bus windows as we were travelling to and from the marathon routes! But because we were averaging only 12 hours in a number of locations, sightseeing and souvenir shopping was out of the question! I did buy a new beanie from the Antarctic base and posted a couple of postcards home! But what made up for it was that the marathons were run in incredibly scenic locations, such as alongside the windswept waters of the Strait of Magellan and beneath the towering skyscrapers of Dubai.

What was the most significant landmark you came across during the races?

Funnily enough it was the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House travelling to our final marathon in Manly!

However all the continents had stand out features, for example the incredible white, ice expanse of the Union Glacier of Antarctica and the fabulous retro buildings all along the beach front at Miami beach.

Was the event well organised? Were you just expected to be course savvy or was there drink stations and support along the way?

The World Marathon Challenge was incredibly well organised and every runner was cared for. Prior to each race we were briefed on the route, the conditions and location of aid stations. We were accompanied by race organisers on bikes for the first lap to ensure we all were familiar with the course. In every location the drinks and aids stations were all well stocked and manned by friendly locals. First aid was on standby and the laps were timed and marked off and there was a celebratory banner to run through at the end of each marathon! Perfect!

Did the male competitors look after you and take an interest in your well-being or was it every runner for themselves because of the pain every one was going through?

The race organisers looked after us so well, checking and supervising anyone with injuries and helping where needed.

As a group we bonded right from the beginning and helped each other through to the end of the event here in Sydney. Whether it was words of encouragement, running quietly next to each other, providing strapping and band aids or buying a coffee, we were always there for each other.

Funniest moment?

Our flight in Punta Arenas was delayed due to strong winds, so as we waited at the gate, we took the opportunity to stretch, get out the foam rollers and check our race gear. All the puzzled looks from other passengers in the terminal was priceless!

When you finished did you get seven medals or one?

At the end of each marathon we received a medal and then a beautiful larger one on completion of the World Marathon Challenge.

There were also some extra medals for: Being new members of the 7 Continents Marathon club and the Intercontinental Marathon club (this is for running the 7 marathons on 7 continents within 7 days). Plus, I’m a new member of the Grand Slam club, having run at the North Pole last year.

I’ve never had so much bling in my life!

It’s not a cheap race, but a lifetime experience. Did you feel you got value for money?

The World Marathon Challenge is one of those incredible life experiences and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It’s definitely value for money and it’s a race that’s truly one of a kind, created and managed by Richard Donovan from Polar Running Adventures. I’ve come away with a heart that’s brimming with emotion, a head full of amazing memories, and many new friends for life. 

World Marathon Challenge, Jan 18-31 2017

Seven marathons: Union Glacier (Antarctica), Punta Arenas (Chile), Miami (USA), Madrid (Spain), Marrakech (Morocco), Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Sydney (Australia). In doing so, competitors complete seven marathons on the planet's seven continents: Antarctica, South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. 

Run Fun Travel are currently taking entries for the 2017 World Marathon Challenge

Join Event Director, Richard Donovan, on this amazing challenge.

Places are limited for the 2017 World Marathon Challenge.

All finishers will be eligible to join both The 7 Continents Marathon Club™ and the exclusive Intercontinental Marathon Club ®, reserved for athletes who have run 7 Marathons on 7 Continents within 7 Days.

Cost: $36,000 Euros. 

More info: www.runfuntravel.com or email fran@runfuntravel.com

http://www.runfuntravel.com/event.php?e=68